The Department of Housing received nearly 300 submissions about controversial plans to tackle the number of legal cases being taken against planning proposals.
The Government had put forward plans to restrict the right of community groups, non-governmental organisations, and citizens from taking legal action against developments around the country.
Among the measures were that groups would have to be in existence for at least three years, have at least 100 members, be personally and substantially affected by a development, and have enough money to cover legal costs.
However, the plans were met with a wave of complaints from members of the public and environmental groups, according to 294 submissions received as part of a public consultation, a significant majority of which opposed the plans.
Submissions described the proposals as “a total travesty of the rights of citizens” with one piece of correspondence saying it was an “absolute contravention of democracy”.
Others described the plan as a “crude instrument” and an “outrage” , with one barrister saying he feared objections to the plan would inevitably be ignored by Government.
An Taisce were among more than a dozen environmental groups to object to the proposals, which form part of the Housing and Planning Development Bill.
They asked for it to be withdrawn saying it represented a “significant erosion” of the public’s right to access justice and participate in the planning process.
Industry groups were more welcoming of the plans with energy providers, airport operators, and chambers of commerce all voicing their support for some of the changes.
System a ‘reputational risk’
The IDA warned that Ireland’s planning system had become a “reputational risk” and was working against their efforts to attract international investment.
They said planning and legal challenges were also a barrier to expansion and second-site investments from multinational companies already based in Ireland.
Their submission said: “We must be careful not to allow a situation to develop where judicial review in effect becomes a de facto additional step in the planning process for strategically important projects.”
Daa, the operators of Dublin and Cork airports, said the plan would limit the opportunity for “vexatious challenges” which they said can lead to undue costs and delay.
Forestry agency Coillte said the judicial review process needed to provide certainty on “process, timelines, and anticipated costs” for investors.
Coillte also claimed that renewable energy projects were among those most likely to meet with planning delays through legal action.
They said: “Renewable energy projects typically attract a very large, if not the largest number, of judicial review challenges.”
Energy company SSE said they were a responsible developer who valued a transparent planning and judicial system. They said it was crucial that those with legitimate concerns on planning could take legal action.
However, they added: “There also needs to be appropriate checks and balances in place at an early stage to ensure that judicial review applications which may be frivolous in nature are identified and managed fairly and appropriately.”
The Irish Wind Energy Association also said they supported changes to a legal system that had become “increasingly open to vexatious/spurious objections”.
Property Industry Ireland said they welcomed some aspects of the legislation but said that further changes would be required to planning laws to “facilitate viable sustainable development”.
They also suggested that one proposal on non-governmental organisations should be that the number of affiliated members be set at 250 so that they would represent “general society interests rather than specific or outlier interests”.
The Irish Home Builders Association added their voice to the submissions saying judicial review and legal costs had an immense impact on the industry. They said “viable and positive developments” had already suffered and would continue to do so.
The American Chamber of Commerce Ireland said that it was critical that those responsible for administration of planning in Ireland were “resourced adequately”.
They said some of the planned changes would protect against “vexatious claims” while still ensuring those affected by planning decisions would still have recourse to the courts.
In a statement, the Department of Housing said the planning reform proposals were the outcome of working group deliberations involving several government departments, planning agencies, the Courts Service, and the Attorney General.
They said: “[WE VIEW] public participation as an essential element of the planning system in Ireland.”
The department added that the 294 submissions would be used to help inform the future path of the legislation with a view “to ensuring compliance with UN and EU requirements” and enactment by the end of this year or early in 2022.